Choosing a dog walker is such an incredibly important decision and the research and selection can be quite a stressful and worrying experience. You want to choose the best for your dog, but where do you start? Choosing a great dog walker can be such a valuable and positive addition to your dog’s life, but choosing the wrong set up or individual does have the potential to be detrimental to your dog’s wellbeing.
I’d always urge anybody searching for a dog care provider to consider welfare first, put your logical cap on and think pragmatically about what is really being offered to you and your pup. Forget the pictures of doggy heaven with oodles of dogs running wild and think about what that experience really delivers your dog. Commercial setups are fabulous at marketing and in a world of social media we all love to see dogs looking like they’re having a whale of a time, but what do you think the behind the scenes pictures really are?
So what do I mean when I say be pragmatic and think logically… and what on earth is ‘welfare first’ anyway?
There are a few key things to keep in mind when discussing a potential service for your dog: your dog’s temperament and what you want for your dog, travel and transport, experience and approach of walker, transparency and finally – what does your gut say?
What do you want for your dog?
I’d like you to start by thinking about your dog. Do they enjoy the company of other dogs? How do they travel? Think about how they interact with other dogs- are they raucous rough- housers? Do they prefer to sniff and mooch about? Do they prefer human interaction to canine?
Next, which behaviours would you like to encourage or discourage? If your dog loves playing and getting preoccupied in the company of other dogs, are you happy for them to do so or would you prefer them to be able to disengage and calm down a bit. If your dog struggles with other dogs and gets barky, snappy or lunges would you like to stop this behaviour and help your dog feel more at ease? Does your dog find it hard to chill out? Are they ‘overamped’ a lot?
It’s quite common for people to think the answers to all of these things may be to exercise their dogs more, socialise them more, expose them to more in order to help them to be more settled. In fact, a hectic environment with lots of other dogs and a manic free-for-all experience will only serve to make these things much worse.
Instead, look for a walker who values matching the dogs they care for well and sets each dog up for success. It may be that your dog would do better with a solo walker if they are not content being around other dogs, for example. Consider meeting with a few different walkers who work in different ways so you can evaluate what will be the best fit for your dog’s needs.
“Transparency is the absolute key to a good walker and owner relationship.”
Travel and Transport
This is absolutely key to your dog’s welfare, safety and comfort. If your dog is being walked with others then you need to know exactly how they are all transported. They should all be kept separate and restrained during travel. That could be in crates or on harnesses, but they should not be able to interact physically whatsoever and they should be safely restrained by law. Ask to see inside the walker’s vehicle (when there are no other dogs inside please!).
Having dogs loose in the back of a car may be a picture that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy as they ride shotgun with all their ‘pals’ off for a frolic together. But in reality, it is a recipe for disaster and something which should be absolutely avoided at all costs. At best the dogs could be injured with a sharp brake from the driver, at worst there could be a fight which could end very badly indeed. A risk which no professional walker should be taking with any dogs.
If your dog is being collected on foot then be sure to ask where the other dogs will be when your dog is being picked up. Dogs from other households should not be entering your home – even if your dog and the others are the best of friends, bringing them into their territory is another unnecessary risk which no professional should consider taking. They should also not be left unattended.
Lastly, please think about how much time your dog will be spending either in a vehicle each day or, if with a walker who operates on foot, then how far they will walk each day. How will your walker adapt this in the heat of summer? Do they have air conditioning in their vehicle? Will they do shorter walks on foot or switch to visits when the weather is too hot? How will they get them to the vets in an emergency if needed?
Experience and approach of a walker
I hope it goes without saying that you should meet with the individual who will actually walk your dog. Watch how they interact with your dog and vice versa. How long have they been working with dogs professionally? Ask them some open questions to see how they work and whether you’re happy with how they will handle any problems.
What would they do if your dog didn’t get along with another dog in the group? How do they introduce new dogs to the others in their care? What safety measures do they have in place to mitigate the risks of group dog walking? What would they do if a dog in their care needed to see a vet urgently? What would they do if they lost a dog? What training methods do they use with the dogs in their care?
Any pack leader, dominance-type answers should flag a red warning sign. You want your dog to be happy, relaxed and enjoying their time with their walker and their pals. Aversive training methods could cause unexpected negative consequences and behavioural issues so you need to be comfortable with how the walker addresses these things.
Ask the walker about the personalities of the other dogs they walk. Do they sound like a good fit for your dog? Do you like the way the walker talks about them?
Transparency is the absolute key to a good walker and owner relationship. And this one goes both ways. If you want to find a good dog walker and set your dog up for a fabulous time then you must be 100% open and honest about your dog with the walker. If your walker doesn’t know that Fido hates car travel, or that he makes a beeline for men in hats, or that his recall goes to pot near water then your walker has been set up to fail and this could be incredibly dangerous for your dog.
You know your dog best and you are best equipped to prepare your walker for the dog they will be walking with. If you expect honesty and transparency with your walker or pet care provider then you must be honest not just when your dog starts with them but throughout your relationship. Things change, life happens and so your communication with your walker should be an ongoing, open, two-way conversation about everything that could affect your dog. If things at home have become a bit stressful, perhaps you have a new baby and nobody’s getting any sleep, or maybe your dog’s a bit slower getting out of bed each day and may have a little pain creeping in on their joints. This is all valuable information that your walker needs to know!
Trust your gut
Lastly, your gut instinct and your dog’s reaction should have the final say! If your dog isn’t keen, is a bit reserved or perhaps is reluctant to go with your walker then think about whether there is any reason for this that makes sense to you? How do you feel in your gut about this person?
Ultimately, we can never guarantee that we’ve made the right choice and at some point, we have to make a leap of faith. But we can do our research, ask plenty of questions and crucially look at your dog’s reactions and behaviour both with their walker and post-walkies. When you find a good one, they will become an extended part of your family that should be treasured!
Poochville offers a unique, outstanding doggy daycare experience to dogs in Tooting and Balham. In a world where people lead increasingly busy lifestyles, there is a huge demand for pet care professionals able to deliver responsible, skilled, experienced dog care services.
For more information: www.poochville.co.uk